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Are Cold Sores Herpes?

Updated on December 3, 2016
Cold Sore on the lips typically reoccurs in the same location. Use this fact as an early hint of an outbreak.
Cold Sore on the lips typically reoccurs in the same location. Use this fact as an early hint of an outbreak. | Source

Cold sores (herpes labialis) or more colloquially known as fever blisters are small yet extremely painful blisters that typically develop on or near an individual’s lips. However, they may also appear on the skin around the mouth, nose or on the chin.

The cause of cold sores is the Herpes Simplex Virus (HSV). In fact there are two different types of HSV, simply known as type 1 and type 2. However, the HSV-1 is primarily the main cause. Whereas, the HSV-2 can infect the mouth, yet it primarily causes genital herpes.

The Herpes Simplex Virus causing Cold Sores.
The Herpes Simplex Virus causing Cold Sores. | Source

Is Cold Sores Common?

Cold Sores are extremely common in society. It is estimated that around 90% of the adult population have the herpes simplex antibodies in their blood. This illustrates that some time in their life they have had contact and unfortunately been infected with the HSV. Although, it is very unlikely an individual can pinpoint this first contact, as the primary or initial infection typically does not produces any symptoms.

People suffering from this illness generally have been infected in childhood or young adulthood. If you are a sufferer, there is a high probability you caught it from direct contact with someone who has cold sores or from being kissed by adult who suffers from it.

Although a high proportion of people have the herpes simplex virus, only one third of them will experience cold sores throughout their life. They are the recurrence of the earlier infection and are not a new or recent infection. Thus, in some lucky people the virus will remain dormant or ‘asleep’ permanently. However for the constant suffers, sadly the virus stays in your body, meaning the infection will persist for life.

Symptoms Of Cold Sores

Recurrent outbreaks of cold sores are known to start with a tingling sensation, redness and maybe swelling around the lips. However, you are more likely to know an outbreak is about to occur if you cast your mind to previous recurrent outbreaks, as not all individuals will satisfy the above preconditions. Afterwards, a small and fluid-filled blister will develop and burst open and subsequently grow into a yellow crust or a scab. You can expect the sore development to disappear naturally without any interventions in approximately 7 – 10 days. However, more severe outbreaks could take longer. Furthermore, recurrent outbreaks generally appear in or near the same location every time. So this should further aid you in determining if an outbreak is about to occur. Also note that it is not uncommon to have two to three outbreaks a year.

Triggers Of Cold Sores

A main trigger event is simply colds themselves. This is obviously seen in the name of the disease. However, there are numerous other factors that may trigger an episode of cold sores, including:

  • Emotional or physical stress
  • Tiredness
  • Any hormonal changes, for example during menstruation
  • Strong sunlight
  • Fever from influenza or chest infections
  • Any injury to the mouth

Possible Complications From Cold Sores

Cold sore outbreaks are annoying especially in our busy lives, but if an outbreak occurs, you must take a few extra precautions to ensure the illness does not become more of a hindrance. Please seek medical attention if any of the follow uncommon complication is visible: bacterial infections, fever and pus in the blisters. However, most importantly the virus has the capacity to spread to other areas including the eyes, finger and other parts of the body. Be especially careful not to come in contact with your eyes. If the HSV-1 enters your eyes, there is a possibility of permanent eye damage. You will notice cold sore in your eye as your eye or eyes will become painful and red. Please seek immediate medical help if you believe you have contracted cold sore in your eye as the herpes virus may create an ulcer on the cornea of your eye, which leads to irreversible damage of your sight. However, prevention of eye damage is possible if there is early treatment through specific medication in order to suppress the virus.

Additionally, if the virus spreads to the genitals, then it may result in genital herpes. Also, individuals suffering broken skin from eczema or dermatitis are more vulnerable to complications as the virus can possibly catalyze a serious skin infection.

Treatment Of Cold Sores

Currently, there are no cures to destroy and eradicate the herpes virus from your body. Once infected, your will permanently have the virus even if you never have any outbreaks. There are some interventions you may take in order to relieve any pain or discomfort you may feel and increase your recovery time.

  • Simple non-prescription painkillers may be taken to mitigate any soreness.
  • Non-prescription anti-viral cold sore creams can advance your recovery time if applied early in the outbreak. Thus it is necessary to understand the early symptoms you develop in order to alleviate future outbreaks faster.
  • Simply ice on the blisters can be soothing.
  • Antiviral medication such as Acyclovir and Famciclovir help decrease the time frame of your outbreak by actively reducing the ability of virus to continually reproduce. Again, effectiveness is best when medication is taken during the early stages of an impending outbreak.

Do you take preventative measures during a cold sore outbreak?

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Prevention Of Cold Sores

Below are a variety of preventative measures to keep in mind during your next outbreak to ensure you minimize the possibility of spreading the Herpes Simplex Virus to your loved ones and also to minimize further complications in yourself.

  • Avoid any known triggers by firstly attempting to identify any consistent trigger that occurred before each outbreak.
  • If planning to go outdoors, remember to apply sunblock on your face and lips to stop overexposure to sunlight.
  • Monitor your general wellbeing and stress levels, as these are key triggers for recurrent episodes.
  • Try to reduce being ill or unwell.
  • Correctly dispose of used tissues that have been in contact with the cold sore.
  • Do not share any food or drinks.
  • Be mindful in following hygienic hand washing techniques to mitigate the spread of the virus to other areas of your own body.
  • Do not share any medicines, face towel, cutlery, make-up, lipstick and creams that have had direct contact with the outburst.
  • Do not kiss on or near the cold sore.
  • Do not touch the outburst, but in the incidence that you do, wash your hands thoroughly.
  • When putting your contact lenses on, ensure you diligently wash your hands thoroughly to prevent the virus infecting your eyes.

© 2016 Billy Zhang

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